As the time of death draws near, the poet is affected by "a dread beyond of/I know not what" that casts a gloom on his spirits. He will "traverse the States," but perhaps his "singing voice" may "suddenly cease." He asks: "O chants! must all then amount to but this?" But in this awareness of his approaching end, he is reassured by the fact that he and his soul have at least "positively appear'd."
Two divergent moods are expressed in this poem. In a mood of despair, the poet wonders why the journey of life should end. But then he discovers that death is also a new beginning, a new life. Then, the fear of departure is combined with the hope of a new arrival. This emotional and philosophical paradox is at the heart of the poem. A touch of deeply felt personal emotion marks expressions such as "a dread beyond of/I know not what darkens me." This is reminiscent of the lines in Hamlet's famous soliloquy, "the dread of something after death — /The undiscover'd country" (Hamlet III, i, 78-79).